The latest rumor is that the Los Angeles Dodgers have made trading for Rays starting pitcher James Shields their number one priority this offseason. Are the circumstances right for the Rays to trade Shields and do the Dodgers have the pieces to offer the Rays a package that could make the deal actually happen?
The Rays are renowned throughout baseball for their starting rotation depth. But James Shields is more than just a member of that depth. Shields has surpassed 200 innings the past six years and led the Rays’ rotation in innings five times, and he’s more than an innings-eater, having pitched like a true ace for all of 2011 and the second half of 2012 after struggling to begin the year. Even if the Rays have the depth to replace Shields, could they possibly contend without his presence in the rotation? The answer is that while the Rays would not be able to replace Shields, they would not expect such a noticeable drop-off from their rotation if they trade him away. They expect their young pitchers like Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, and Chris Archer to continue to mature in addition to Jeff Niemann staying healthy, and between the increased production from those five combined with David Price at the top, the Rays’ rotation would still be right up there for the best in baseball. That rotation may not have a clear-cut number two starter, but Jeremy Hellickson has a chance to get there after the increased effectiveness of his curveball in 2012 led to flashes from dominance we had never seen in his rookie year, and Matt Moore has as much potential as any pitcher in baseball and everything could suddenly click for him next season. The Rays have no need to trade Shields- they have shown in the past that they have no problem leaving big league ready starters in the bullpen or at Triple-A knowing that starting pitching injuries are all too common, and of course everyone around the organization loves Shields. But if the right offer comes along, the Rays would hesitate to make a deal happen. Are the Dodgers a likely destination for Shields if the Rays do end up trading him?
The Rays major needs right now are at first base, the outfield, catcher, and designated hitter. In a trade for Shields, the Rays would like to fill at least a couple of those needs right now or at least at some point in 2013 while also receiving prospects with the upside to play a big part of their future. The Dodgers might have the personnel in their organization to present the Rays with exactly the type of package they’re looking for.
At catcher, the Dodgers have A.J. Ellis slotted in, and he’s 31 years old but coming off a big 2012 and the Dodgers seem to be committed to him for the present, opening them up to trade Tim Federowicz, a solid catching prospect ready for the big leagues, but not someone that knocks their socks off. Federowicz, who turned 25 in August, is coming off a great offensive year at Triple-A in 2012, albeit in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, posting a .294/.371/.461 line with 34 doubles, 11 homers, 76 RBI, and 91 strikeouts versus 52 walks in 115 games and 475 plate appearances, and he also posted a 39% caught stealing rate defensively with just 3 passed balls. Federowicz stands out most for his defense, where he’s an excellent receiver (something that the Rays have shown themselves to value especially much as they keep Jose Molina on the roster) to go along with smooth actions defensively and a good arm, and he has a chance to be a solid offensive catcher, hitting for a solid average with a little power and a pretty good on-base percentage. Federowicz is certainly not the most impressive catching prospect out there, but he’s better than anything the Rays have right now, a group that consists of Molina, Jose Lobaton, Robinson Chirinos, and Chris Giminez, and could compete for a big league job alongside Molina immediately. Federowicz can’t be the headline piece in a deal like this, but he’s definitely a player the Rays could be interested in.
The Rays have proven over the years that they place a high value on versatility. Alex Castellanos fits that mold and could be a player the Rays could use immediately to help improve their situations in the outfield and at second base. Castellanos, another older prospect having turned 26 in August, had an enormous season at Triple-A in 2012, posting a .328/.420/.590 line with 25 doubles, 7 triples, 17 homers, 52 RBI, 16 of 24 stolen bases, and 85 strikeouts against 46 walks in 94 games in 407 plate appearances while playing second base, third base, and both corner outfield positions. Castellanos won’t be nearly that good in the big leagues, but he shows a nice power-speed combination with the bat speed and patience to hit for a solid average and OBP. Castellanos is expendable for the Dodgers thanks to their crowded situation in the outfield and the presence of Elian Herrera. Castellanos is a very similar in just about every possible way to a player the Rays already have, Brandon Guyer, with both being older prospects and right-handed hitters that have piqued interest with their power-speed combinations, but Castellanos adds in the wrinkle that he can play the infield. And with both Guyer and Castellanos lacking significant big league experience, the Rays could double their odds of getting at least one capable player by having both of them in the fold. Castellanos also looks to be a better all-around player than the utility types the Rays have around right now, although he can’t handle shortstop. Castellanos is once again not the most exciting prospect, but he’s another player it could make sense for the Rays to target as a secondary piece in a potential trade.
One last possible need-filling piece the Rays could acquire from the Dodgers without eliciting much of a quibble could be outfielder/first baseman Scott Van Slyke. Van Slyke, who turned 26 in July, was another player at Triple-A for the Dodgers who had a huge year, posting a .327/.404/.578 line with 34 doubles, 18 homers, 67 RBI, and 64 strikeouts versus 46 walks in 95 games and 411 plate appearances. Van Slyke, the son of 3-time All-Star Andy Van Slyke, features the power to potentially hit 30 home runs in the big leagues from a short stroke although patience and pitch recognition have been issues for him in the past. Van Slyke has played both corner outfield spots in addition to first base in the past but has struggled defensively wherever he has gone and he’s going to have to hit quite a bit to stick in the major leagues. With Adrian Gonzalez signed long-term at first base and a crowded situation in the outfield, Van Slyke doesn’t look to crack the Dodgers’ starting lineup anytime soon, but the Rays could offer him at-bats at first base and designated hitter immediately. Van Slyke can’t be any worse than Carlos Pena and Luke Scott were for the Rays in 2012, and he has the ability to be a solid hitter in the middle of the Rays lineup if everything goes well.
There you have three players that the Dodgers have that could compete for roster spots on the Rays immediately and represent improvements over what the Rays currently have on their roster, and the Dodgers would not hesitate even a second to part with them to acquire Shields. But the critical part of this trade will be the prospects with the potential to make the Rays a better team in the long-term even as they move on without the most dependable starter in their history in Shields.
One Dodgers prospect that could really intrigue the Rays could be 20 year old outfielder Joc Pederson. Pederson is coming off a great year at High-A for the Dodgers, posting a .313/.396/.516 line with 24 doubles, 18 homers, 70 RBI, 26 of 40 stolen bases, and 81 strikeouts versus 51 walks in 110 games and 499 plate appearances. Defensively, he played primarily centerfielder and posted 9 outfield assists. Pederson shows five average or better tools, featuring great bat speed from a short stroke with an all-fields approach and solid power, and he’s an above-average runner with good instincts on the basepaths and in the outfield to go along with a good arm, although he may fit best in left or right field as opposed to center moving forward. Pederson has a chance to hit for a nice average in the major leagues to go along with 20 homers and 25 steals and good outfield defense. Pederson still has to work on hitting the ball with a little more authority in order to avoid becoming a tweener, a corner outfielder who lacks the power to profile there, but he has a chance to be an excellent big league player, and he’ll be just 21 years old as he heads to Double-A in 2013. Why would the Dodgers be willing to trade Pederson? Once again, the reason is because of their extremely crowded picture in the outfield moving forward. Pederson has the talent the Rays want and is expendable enough for the Dodgers that he could be a central piece of a Shields trade.
And this trade has to finish with a pitching prospect- the Rays aren’t going to trade Shields and not recoup at least a little of their pitching depth in return. With the Dodgers’ top pitching prospect, Zach Lee, likely untouchable, and several of the Dodgers’ top pitching prospects either struggling in 2012 or getting traded away, the best option for the Dodgers to trade might be their 2011 first round pick Chris Reed. Reed, 22, tossed just 70.1 innings in 2012 while dealing with a shoulder injury, although a lot of that was precautionary, and he pitched pretty well when he was on the mound, going just 1-8 but with a 3.97 ERA, an 8.6 K/9, a 4.4 BB/9, and a 0.4 HR/9 in 17 starts and 2 relief appearances between High-A and Double-A. Reed throws a four-seam fastball that reaches the high-90’s but works primarily with a low-90’s two-seamer that he commands well down in the zone but struggled to control in 2012. He also throws a slider that shows flashes but was ineffective for Reed for much of 2012 to go along with a changeup that hasn’t progressed as much as Reed and the Dodgers would like. Reed has considerable potential but other than the problems with his pitches, particularly his fastball control, the movement on his slider, and his changeup, a major concern for Reed moving forward is durability- he hasn’t thrown a 100-inning season in his life, working as a reliever at Stanford and being limited because of his shoulder this season. He has the stuff to start but may end up in a relief role if he can’t build up the stamina to start. Reed is a player that would be tough for the Dodgers to part with, but there is certainly risk involved with him and the Dodgers may be willing to let him go to make this Shields trade materialize.
Here is the proposed trade.
Tampa Bay Rays trade RHP James Shields, INF Reid Brignac, and RHP Jason McEachern to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for LHP Chris Reed, OF Joc Pederson, C Tim Federowicz, UTIL Alex Castellanos, and OF/1B Scott Van Slyke.
You may notice that this trade follows the same pattern as the Matt Garza trade- big name starter, Quad-A player, and pitching prospect with a little upside for two big name prospects, a pitcher and a position player, and two other players to help the big league team in short order. Would the Dodgers agree to a trade like this? It would not be a small blow to their farm system, but they’re losing only one player that clearly had a future with the team in Reed and acquiring their number one target this offseason in Shields, a pitcher to anchor their rotation and lead them to the postseason. If the Dodgers really desire Shields that much, they will be willing to trade away a package like this to make the trade happen and get their guy. The Dodgers may be as good of a fit as anyone to trade for Shields, and if the Rays do decide to trade him, Dodger Stadium may be the favorite to be the place where Shields pitches in 2013 if not in Tampa Bay.